Abandoned half-built buildings, abandoned half-destroyed buildings and slums form the bulk of the cityscape of Goma, on the border with Rwanda. Nothing works. Corruption, power outages, and impassable roads - and the palpable threat of chaos - are part of daily life. One in six children born today in the Democratic Republic of Congo won't live to see their fifth birthday. Since the outbreak of fighting in 1998 almost three million children have died here. Within these dire conditions I saw the extraordinary work of War Child and met children who, despite every element working against them, astonished me with their warmth, intelligence, determination and desire to learn and build a better life.
Poverty in Myanmar affects ordinary Burmese families and children, with one in four of the population living in extreme poverty, but ActionAid's child sponsorship programme is really helping and making real transformations... That is why I am is backing ActionAid's Christmas appeal to find sponsors for 2,700 children across six countries in the developing world - Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Malawi, Myanmar and The Gambia - who are affected by extreme poverty or conflict to help give them a future.
In the DRC women are already seen treated as objects, rather than individuals, in the eyes of society. If agents of the state are actively preventing women from empowering themselves and raising their voices to speak out against discrimination, gender-based violence and political sidelining, then the status quo is unlikely to change. If those brave individuals who do speak out against the government, or who speak for under-represented groups, are sexually tortured into submission, then others are not likely to follow in their footsteps.
Christian Aid implemented a disaster resilience project in Bweremana in early 2011, with funding support from the UK Government, which was designed to help several hundred residents to diversify their crops in response to a crisis that hit their staple banana crops which was caused by an incurable plant disease called banana wilt - locally named 'the HIV of bananas.'..
"Grow your economy. And become poorer!" Not a very inspiring message. It doesn't even sound coherent. But however stupid it might sound, that is what is still happening in many developing countries. And if you don't believe that it is possible to grow your GDP at the same time as seeing a decline in your national wealth then consider the following...
As I sat waiting for A Season in the Congo, I was struck by how much more of London there was at the Young Vic. There were buxom, Laura Ashley skirted women; teenagers in their requisite black uniform with matching eyeliner and messy ponytail fountains; older men in calf-high black socks and beige Birkenstocks and hip, colourful young women in thigh-kissing chiffon.
What do Ethiopia, Mozambique and Angola have in common? Well just under two decades ago, the stories that emerged from these three countries pretty much summed up the state of most of the African continent at the time. Two decades later, the same countries are not only in the news, but on every economic analyst's list.
Some places almost never get the attention they deserve. One of these is the Democratic Republic of Congo. A vast country of some 80 million people, at the heart of Africa. It has struggled since independence in 1960 with a poor colonial legacy, cold war manipulations, venal and incompetent governments, and a succession of wars.
While the M23 rebels - who mutinied from the Congolese army last May - remain within striking distance of the key border town of Goma, the regional and international diplomatic wrangling goes on. Fractious peace talks between the rebel leaders and the Congolese government in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, will resume on 4 January.
Accountability and responsibility; where does it start and where does it end? Growing up always comes with taking on greater responsibilities, and we soon learn that our decisions not only affect our own lives, but also those of others, either close or unknown to us. The same counts for our actions, and the direct and indirect consequences they may trigger.
We've seen the troubling issue of violence against children accused of witchcraft back in the headlines this week, as the UK Government launches an action plan to tackle it.